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Three reasons why Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Manchester United will benefit Mason Greenwood

Mason Greenwood will turn 22 on October 1, 2023. By that time, he will have worked closely with Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo — all serial goal getters — for an extended period of time.

It’s a scary thought considering just how prolific the 19-year-old is in front of goal already. Greenwood is by consensus the best finisher at the Manchester United. Paul Pogba called him arguably the most clinical finisher he has ever played with. Solskjær never shies away from putting that label on United’s No. 11, despite his still very tender age, either. The Norwegian most recently joked that Ronaldo would learn from Greenwood once he finally returns to Carrington next week after a 12 year hiatus.

Yet still, amongst the pure and utter joy surrounding the long awaited return of the prodigal son to the Theatre of Dreams, some have their doubts — particularly in regards to the impact that signing Ronaldo could have on Greenwood’s minutes. After all, United’s forward line is absolutely stacked at the moment — with Marcus Rashford still to return. It’s an embarrassment of the riches.

The only person seemingly not worried is the man in question himself. Greenwood has had a sensational start to the 2021/22 season — netting in all three of United’s opening fixtures. The first was the eventual match winner against Leeds United, the second gave the Reds a point in a tough test at St. Mary’s, and the third was the winner in a nail biter against Wolves. It’s safe to say that the paper talk has not reached Greenwood’s wave length.

Once again, the famous Matt Busby audible, “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough” springs to mind. There is absolutely no reason for concern in regards to Greenwood’s involvement this season as ultimately, it is his on the pitch actions that do the talking. And at the moment, the young Englishman is simply undroppable. Thursday morning saw him nominated for the Premier League Player of the Month award and completely run away with the vote count for the same honor within United.

While it would be fair to be concerned about the development of somebody who is on the fringes of the first team, the upward trajectory of Greenwood’s progress will unlikely be affected. He is already a star and that is while barely scratching the surface of his potential. Instead, it is better to look at what he could gain from working closely and building a bond with these bonafide goal scorers.

Edinson Cavani‘s impact on Greenwood has been visible after barely 12 months of playing together. Since the Uruguayan arrived, Greenwood has evidently picked up bits and pieces from the way United’s new No. 21 moves and attacks spaces in the opposition box. Now, with Ronaldo’s arrival imminent — Greenwood will be like a fresh sponge ready to absorb all the new data. Ronaldo’s presence could take him — and the whole squad — to a new level.

Winning mentality

The next step for United — and Greenwood individually — is to become ruthless in winning positions. The Reds are yet to taste silverware during Solskjær’s reign — despite coming close on numerous occasions — and the belief is that the additions of the likes of Ronaldo and Raphaël Varane this summer could finally tilt the pendulum in United’s favor. Winners do not come any more serial than those two.

This winning mentality rubbing off on Greenwood would be crucial because at 19, he is already a popular dressing room figure. The Athletic‘s Laurie Whitwell detailed that in an article from about a month ago in which he said that Greenwood is “a boisterous personality” within the group, having no trouble dishing out jokes as well as receiving them. For a teenager, that is the ultimate sign of respect.

In many ways, the squad would not look at him as a teenager anymore because of the amount of weight he pulls. Out of Greenwood’s 12 goals in all competitions last season, six of them put United ahead in games and three were equalizers. The importance of his strikes this season we already discussed. If he becomes half as obsessed with winning as Ronaldo is, the rest of the squad will follow.

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Ronaldo has been the driving force towards the vast majority of the 32 career trophies he has to his name. This includes five Champions League titles. Greenwood has two, and potentially even three, years to learn from him, amongst all the other winners that now once again occupy the United dressing room.

It feels like all this current United team needs is to get their hands on one trophy. That would give them the taste. And once you win, it becomes addictive. This season’s squad looks in very good shape to challenge for the top honors once again. And don’t be surprised if Greenwood continues to be the difference maker that he has already showed he is capable of being.

Good habits

We could sit here and talk about Ronaldo’s work ethic until we are blue in the face. But the simple fact that at 36 he has decided to return to the Premier League instead of taking the easy money route elsewhere should tell you all that you will ever need to know. This is no ordinary 36-year-old.

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Greenwood, at 19, is still very much a teenager in terms of his body, despite being the man on the pitch. The young forward has bulked up significantly since the start of the last calendar year, but he is still in the early stages all things considered. And with how good he already is with the ball at his feet, it’s obvious what is about to come next.

Other than Ronaldo’s freakish transformation from when he joined United as an 18-year-old to when he left, Rashford is another great example of the fantastic strength and conditioning work at the club. Bursting onto the scene as an extremely talented boy — just like Greenwood — Rashford took around three years to really fill out. United’s No. 10 now looks like the ultimate athlete — a specimen. That’s as much thanks to the work of United’s coaching staff as it is to his own initiative.

Greenwood is seemingly taking a similar path. Once he established himself as a first team regular, the academy graduate went to work in the gym. From the start of the coronavirus pandemic to Project Restart — which was a span of ~3 months — Greenwood left as a boy and came back as a man.

The progress, of course, has been gradual. Firstly, Greenwood established his frame. Now, this past summer, the forward has admittedly worked on his speed. His goal against Leeds demonstrated a somewhat uncharacteristic burst of pace to burn Pascal Struijk in a leg race. A moment of acceleration also saw Greenwood leave Conor Coady for dead last Sunday. That added ability to outpace opponents and get in behind will inevitably add goals to Greenwood’s tally.

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Whether the 19-year-old’s future at United is through the middle or as more of an inside forward remains to be seen. The popular opinion is that he will continue to make the No. 9 role his home as time goes by. As aforementioned, he has already shown improvements in that department in terms of movement and making runs partly thanks to Solskjær’s and Cavani’s mentorship.

Now, adding more strength to his frame will enable Greenwood to take away from Ronaldo’s game. The after 30 Ronaldo that turned into a goal machine — using his insane physique to get the best of defenders and net a truly ridiculous amount of goals. Greenwood could not be in a better environment for his growth.

Opportunistic goals

As lauded as Greenwood is for his finishing, we have still only seen a minuscule sample size of it. As of right now, the forward has been too busy shattering all the expected goals (xG) metrics. So far this season, he has three Premier League goals from an xG of 0.9. In his debut season, he scored 10 league goals from an xG of 3.6. Things evened out a little last campaign with seven goals from 7.4 xG.

The point of the argument here though is that Greenwood is currently still scoring ‘worldies’ — for the most part. Only a few typical striker’s goals stand out. And let’s make one thing clear, Greenwood’s goalscoring pedigree is by no means a fluke. The purity with which he strikes a ball leaves keepers in danger no matter where the shot is coming from. Last weekend, you’d argue that the Wolves keeper should’ve done better. But he couldn’t have. The power and crispness in the shot didn’t let him. Virtually all of Greenwood’s efforts are headed for the side netting. It’s uncanny.

With his frame and strike of the ball often compared to Robin van Persie, Greenwood next needs to learn how to get into the goal scoring positions that the Dutchman used to thrive in. Those positions are eerily similar to those that Cavani and Ronaldo both made a living in too. And as lethal as he already is in front of goal, developing that nose for scrappy goals, for being in the right place at the right time, would add yet another dimension to his exceptional repertoire. That will come with time.

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An opportunity to learn, not an obstacle

A lot will continue to be said about Ronaldo’s return, the presence of Cavani — and what not — in regards to Greenwood’s development. Even once they prove that they can all thrive together, there will still be noise. All Greenwood has to do is to ignore that.

There are arguably no better people to surround the young forward with than elite goal-scorers who are accustomed to being in the spotlight and canceling out the outside chatter. As a result, Greenwood will not only improve and pick up good habits on the pitch, but also off it — as long as he is eager to learn. And all the signs show that he is.

The 19-year-old has shown a lot more emotion after scoring goals recently. He’s growing into being a star at United. He is slowly but surely realizing that he is a showman that the Stretford Enders would die for. Greenwood is already United’s highest scoring teenager of all time and he still has a few weeks to make that record untouchable.

Looking ahead, the sky really is the limit. In an environment filled with only the world’s best — experts at their crafts — it is not a stretch to claim that United have a monster in the making in their ranks. And the sheer prospect of what Greenwood could become before even coming near the age of 25 is truly scary.

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